Security is hung out to dry as USB sticks end up in the laundry

19 Jan 2009

The revelation that up to 9,000 USB data sticks are found in laundrettes across the UK alone signals a widespread carelessness that could leave businesses and government organisations in hot (not so soapy) water.

A survey by Credant Technologies found that in the past year 9,000 USB sticks have been forgotten in people’s pockets, as they bring their clothes to be washed at the local dry cleaners.

The survey was carried out to gauge the frequency and ease with which mobile devices such as USB and memory sticks are lost or forgotten in strange places such as dry cleaners, while also acting as a warning to people to be vigilant when downloading information to carry around with them – as it does frequently get lost.

A similar survey was conducted by Credant Technologies last September amongst taxi drivers in London, which showed that 6,193 handheld devices such as laptops, iPods and memory sticks are left in the back of taxis every six months!

“We conducted this survey to show people how easy it is to lose data, even in their local laundrette, and that none of us are infallible,” Michael Callahan, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer at Credant Technologies explained.

“If the data is sensitive or valuable, then people should protect this information with encryption so no one can access the data at any point — as it could easily end up in the wrong hands,” he warned.

Many of these devices now have the capacity to store as much as 10,000 word documents, 11,000 pictures, 500,000 contact details or an amazing 1.1 million emails, making them an obvious target for identity theft criminals and hackers who can steal this information and assume the identity of the user, both in their personal or business life.

Dry cleaners in the suburbs, on the commuter belt or based in city centres find the most USB or memory sticks. One dry cleaner in the heart of the city of London said he is getting an average of one USB stick every two weeks, while another said he had found at least 80 in the past year.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years